Ikebana and the art of letting go

Traditional Japanese house with flowers growing out front

The path of the flowers

Kneeling in front of our gracious host Kimiko, she explains to us that what we're about to practice is called Ikebana, or Kadô, the path of the flowers. (Ka is the flowers, dô is the path).

When it’s time for us to begin, she encourages us to take time to choose each piece of foliage thoughtfully and slowly. To contemplate the story we are trying to tell with the arrangement.

Steeped in symbolism, Ikebana is a mindful activity that is about much more than creating a pretty floral arrangement. It’s a practice in honouring the seasons, and our relationship to nature.

There are three layers, the topmost branches represent the sky, the earth is the middle layer and humanity is closest to the base.

Remove the excess

She demonstrates that the space between the branches is just as important as the branches themselves. It’s an act of removing the excess.

I choose a branch from the bundle and holding my ikebana scissors in hand, I’m hesitant to chop anything from it. What if I take away too much? What if I cut it and I regret the shape I make? What if I make a mistake? I know it’s only flowers, but still, I feel the pressure of wanting to impress my teacher and not wanting to mess it up.

It’s hard to let go. I take a breath and start cutting. And with each snip I'm less hesitant. I’m cutting away at the leaves to thin them out. Creating space transforms the look entirely. With room to breathe, the branch looks more beautiful. You really notice the shape each leaf makes.

It’s not lost on me, the metaphor before me.

There is a delicate balance in life between things, and freedom from things.

Knowing how much to remove, and how much to hold onto. I spent my first thirty years filling every inch of my life, busy being busy, saying yes to everyone and everything. I thought having more would make me happier.

Letting go

I became so overwhelmed I had a breakdown and I had to let go. Let go of the expectations I had on myself, let go of the demands on my time and the desire fill my life with stuff, without thinking about if I really wanted it. I started to cut back, and make space. It was difficult at first, but over time, the more I removed, the more clarity I gained.

Kimiko encourages us to appreciate the natural world at all stages of life. When foraging for an ikebana arrangement, she tells us not to overlook the new buds that are yet to bloom. The foliage that is turning from green to golden brown. Twigs that have unruly twists and curves, from trying to reach the sunlight.

Ikebana teaches us that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

By accepting this, we can experience tremendous beauty.

Inspired by Ikebana

Back home in Perth, I think about nature in a new way. I love to wander around my suburb and forage for branches, flowers and gum-nuts to bring into my house. When I go for a walk I notice the ephemeral beauty of blooms that are wilted and turning brown. Autumn leaves as they curl up, in their final moments, ready to fall and decay.

I used to think flowers had to be perfectly formed and straight stemmed to be worthy of going into a vase. Now, I’m not so quick to sweep away the rose petals as they fall from their stems onto my countertop.

In Kyoto I fell in love with the practice of mindful floral arrangements. Though I could never proclaim to be an expert in Ikebana – it takes decades to master – I do understand how to cultivate beauty and practice mindfulness. It's the same peaceful feeling you get from making with clay.

I have a limited number of kenzan ad ikebana shears from Japan in my online store. I have been using a one of my handmade bowls for the vessel and it looks beautiful. 

In my inspired by Ikebana classes you can make your own ceramic flower vessel and practice mindful floral arrangement. They're only on offer a couple of times per year at my studio in Fremantle. Join my email list to find out when tickets become available. 

Flowers arranged in a vasePouring water into a bowl for an ikebana arrangementIkebana scissorsHandmade clay pot for ikebana arrangementkenzan